Poor Thinking

Linda Tirado’s essay about being poor has haunted me since I first read it four years ago. “Poor people don’t plan long-term: we’ll just get our hearts broken,” and study after study has shown that poverty exacts a terrible intellectual toll. If you’re constantly worrying about whether you’ll be able to make this month’s rent or how you’re going to replace the running shoes that someone stole from your daughter, you don’t have time or energy to build a better life.

I don’t know of any research on the effects of self-imposed deprivation. Are people who take a vow of poverty liable to be caught in the same cycle of, “Can’t think about making it better so it doesn’t get better so I can’t think”? I suspect not: I suspect that deep down, those who enter monastic orders and those who give it all up to pursue their muse know that someone will look after them, and that if no one does, they can simply change their mind.

I haven’t gone looking for research on the effects of self-imposed short-term thinking, either, but I suspect it’s pernicious. That’s why I’m taking a break from Twitter: looking back at the last two years, it seems that most of my thoughts could fit into a tweet. Those that couldn’t are almost all recycled: most of Teaching Tech Together, for example, is drawn from the Carpentries’ instructor training program. The few original thoughts I’ve had, like this classification of programming exercises and various lists of ten simple rules, haven’t been particularly deep—I’ve written most of them early in the morning to help myself wake up, and I think that shows. And yeah, there have been a few distractions—resigning from Shopify, being fired by DataCamp (for poor performance, in case you were wondering), my brother’s death, joining RStudio—but I think that if I want to create something worthwhile in 2019, I need to stop thinking as if I was intellectual impoverished. If you’d like to converse 280 words at a time, I’ve re-enabled comments on this blog, and you can always reach me by email.

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